Academic freedom and theories about Sept. 11, 2001 will be the focus of controversial University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer Kevin Barrett's presentation at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Thursday.
Barrett's visit, sponsored by the Oshkosh Campus Greens, has sparked campus-wide debates about academic freedom and is prompting planned protests groups objecting to his message and theories about Sept. 11, 2001.
Andrew Sabai, student chairman of the Campus Greens, said that tickets for the 6 p.m. event are all sold out.
Bringing Barrett to campus, he said, was designed to have Barrett talk about what academic freedom means to students and his own experience about the controversy with his views on Sept. 11, 2001.
Barrett is one of the founding members of Muslim Jewish Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth and a member of the Scholars for 9/11 Truth. Both groups suggest that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government and covered up by the current administration.
"It's a pretty current topic with what happened to him over the summer," Sabai said. "As a student, personally, I think it's important to me personally for my professors to be able to say what they want inside the classroom and outside the classroom so I can get a good education."
Barrett did not return phone calls made over the week.
Barrett garnered national attention in late July when Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and 61 other state legislators sent a resolution to Gov. James Doyle denouncing Barrett's views and calling for the termination of the his one-semester teaching contract. Barrett, who makes just more than $8,000 as a lecturer, has repeatedly said he does not teach his personal views in his class on Islam.
After a university review, Barrett was cleared to teach the class this semester.
The College Republicans are planning a rally to express their disagreement with Barrett's appearance.
"Basically, we wanted to show our displeasure with one the fact that he's still teaching in the UW system," said Nate Nelson, a senior majoring in political science and chairman of the College Republicans.
Nelson said Nass would speak during the rally. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green was also invited, but the group had not received a response from his campaign.
Nelson said the rally would also include a prayer vigil for the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The whole idea that he portrays I find to be extremely insulting," Nelson said.
The fact that a conspiracy theory has cropped up around Sept. 11, 2001, is not surprising to some, like UWO religious studies professor Jeffery Kaplan and Andrew Strombeck, a lecturer at the University of California-Davis, who is currently working on a book about conspiracy theories.
"Conspiracy theories tend to pop-up around events that are unmanageable for people," Strombeck said.
Strombeck said events like Sept. 11, 2001 or other events like the Kennedy assassination or the attack on Pearl Harbor tend to draw conspiracy theorists because they want to find some kind of order in events.
"What these theorists do is remind us that the world is not manageable," Strombeck said. "They are looking for this world that's controlled and orchestrated at the highest levels of the U.S. government."
Kaplan said many people are offended more by Barrett's theories because Sept. 11, 2001 is a more recent event.
"Every great event has spawned revisionist theories. They bother people in proportion to how much people have invested in the event," Kaplan said. "In the case of 9/11, it's very recent and we're engaged in a war on terror. If these views came up a generation from now, they would just be eccentric."
The university is expecting a rally before Barrett's appearance and is setting aside an area for protestors, said Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Petra Roter.
Sabai said protesters plans to rally prior to Barrett's appearance to speak on academic freedom is somewhat surprising because "this isn't hate speech," Sabai said.
Protesting Barrett's views on Sept. 11, 2001 is fine, he said.
"It's about how be can bring those ideas out and discuss them and see if they are valid at all," Sabai said.
Bethany K. Warner: (920) 426-6668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.